The first year I met my husband, we had a tomato-growing contest. We spent one lovely spring morning in his backyard, scratching in the earth and planting our seeds (surprisingly romantic). The sprouts took on a symbolic meaning and I poured my energies each weekend into nurturing, weeding, and fertilizing.
He ignored them and watched football most weekends
His tomatoes, planted in a nice spot exposed to sun and rain, were left alone. He checked in on them regularly, making sure they were safe, but not interfering with nature. My tomatoes, flooded with love and nurture, all primped and preened and spoiled rotten, were lousy. His were amazing.
The renovation made me think about the tomatoes because for kids and tomatoes, there is some magic balance between nurture and neglect. (I realize neglect is the wrong word—it sounds ugly but I think that is why I like using it.) Put it this way: there is a fine line between mothering and smothering.
It takes courage to leave your kids alone—more courage than I usually have. If they know they are loved, it’s often the right thing to do. I thank the renovation for forcing me to let the kids fend for themselves more than I otherwise would.
The greatest challenge of parenting is allowing kids to develop self-reliance and independence while knowing they are loved and supported.
I was busy through the renovation and had less hands-on time with the kids. I missed them. It made me really focus on improving the quality of my time with the kids. I made sure it was intense, fun and loving.
The rest of the time they were left to their own devices. Lo and behold, the older two became attentive shepherds to their younger siblings. They developed a whole bunch of games that all five of them could play. They became better friends. The middle boy, following the lead of his older siblings, became a voracious leader. The five year old learned to ride her bike and now explores the neighbourhood on wheels.
I am really proud of them. There is a part of me that thinks if I had had more time last year, they might not be doing as well. Like my husband’s tomatoes, they got just the right amount of love and sunshine—all on their own.
Last year we bought a little house on a large lot in a neighbourhood we loved. We gutted it, adding two floors and digging out the basement. The whole job took eight months. My husband, our five kids, our dog and me lived in the house the whole time.
It was one wild adventure. It made us a better family and I think it made me a better person. I learned a lot about parenting, about marriage, and about kids while living in the reno zone.
There were good reasons to stay in the house. For one thing, there were no houses to rent in the area and no apartment could house our brood. We wanted the kids to settle into the neighbourhood. We wanted them to stay at their school. Despite the mayhem around them, we wanted them to continue on with all their normal activities.
Oops. I used the word “normal”. Looking back on it from the comfortable confines of my renovated house, I think the biggest lessons I learned from this adventure had to do with the words normal and change.
While living in the reno zone, we chose to recognize and embrace change. The kids, who slept on single mattresses stuck together like Scrabble pieces, knew things were different. Why hide it? There was no TV, no computer, only books and board games surrounded by tools and materials. The kids, all powerfully driven by the pursuit of fun, adapted immediately. (It took my husband a little longer.)
I learned that some things shouldn’t change. We ate every meal together, sitting around the dinner table each night reviewing our days. By the way, an unplugged table saw makes for an excellent sideboard. Bedtime is bedtime, homework is homework, and the dog needs to be walked.
By keeping the basic structure of family life together, I realized that home is simply any place where we are all living together. It was rather liberating. This is probably the best reason why living in the reno zone felt so normal.